11 April 2023
Almost ten years ago, I sat down with a small group of constitutional conservatives and Indigenous leaders and worked on a proposal for constitutional recognition.
The idea we developed was different, it was organic, it was consistent with our constitutional heritage, and it was an uniquely Australian idea designed for Australian conditions.
The proposal was called the Voice.
It was a voice for Indigenous communities to our national leaders.
It was a way of achieving constitutional recognition that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have loved this land for centuries but it also had a practical aspect.
It was about creating a new structure to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
And it was about finding common ground.
I was so committed to this idea that I even set up an organisation called Uphold and Recognise to encourage constitutional conservatives to support the idea of a voice and to get involved in the debate.
With a referendum due this year
I believe the time for the Voice has come.
I believe in local and regional voices.
I believe in a national voice drawn from local and regional voices.
And I will support the referendum being put this year.
I believe the Voice can help move the dial on Indigenous education, health, housing, safety and economic advancement.
A short time ago, I resigned as Shadow Attorney-General and as Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians.
I have had many respectful discussions with colleagues about the Voice over the past year. I have listened to their views and they have heard mine but ultimately I have not been able to persuade them.
It is clear that the Shadow Cabinet and the Party Room and I have taken a different position in relation to the Voice.
The Liberal Party believes in conscience and freedom.
Unlike almost any other party in the parliament, the Liberal Party gives backbenchers the freedom to champion the ideas they believe in.
I want to exercise that freedom because I intend to campaign for a yes vote.
I have loved my work as Shadow Attorney-General and Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians. I hope I have done some good.
I resign without rancour or bitterness, and I remain a loyal Liberal fully committed to the leadership of Peter Dutton.
I have worked with Peter Dutton for many years.
As the shadow minister I have traveled with him probably more than any other colleague.
I have seen him listen to and engage with Indigenous communities and Indigenous leaders.
He has a genuine desire to improve the condition Indigenous Australians find themselves in.
Peter and I had a conversation about my position last December on the Voice.
We have talked several times since.
They have been respectful conversations.
Peter did everything he could do to keep me.
I respect that, and I respect him very much.
But it was clear on the day before Shadow Cabinet and Party Room meeting last week, that I was in a different position to a majority of my colleagues.
At that point, Peter and I agreed that I would take the Passover and Easter break to reflect on my position, which I have done.
My resignation today as a frontbencher is not about personality, it’s about trying to keep faith with the very chords of belief and belonging that are part of who I am.
Keeping faith with the first peoples of this land who want to have a stake in their own futures with structural change in our Constitution to help improve the quality of their lives.
Keeping faith with the Constitution, that invisible pillar that holds our nation together.
Keeping faith with my Parliamentary colleagues, men and women, who believe in this country and work tirelessly for it every day.
Keeping faith with my family and community who keep sending me to Parliament as their representative.
But above all, keeping faith with my values – Liberal values based on a fair-minded, conservative temperament which saw me get involved in this issue a decade ago.
As a Liberal I believe in the dignity of every Australian – in what can be achieved then they are affirmed, valued and empowered.
I believe that better policy is made when the very people affected by it are consulted.
I believe that through empowering people and by building institutions that shift responsibility and decision making closer to people, we are more likely to shift the dial on Indigenous health, education, housing, safety and economic opportunity.
As a conservative I believe in strengthening our shared national fabric.
We need to find common ground as Australians.
Not just on this issue but on so many more.
No great nation has ever been built by dividing it.
Good nations engage in the search for common purpose and common ground.
I believe the government must seriously engage with Coalition voters and it hasn’t done so to date – and this failure could ultimately put the referendum at risk.
When it comes to the Voice, I believe that Australians who remain to be convinced by the Yes case fall into three groups.
The first group are those who are opposed to the Voice – on philosophical and constitutional grounds.
The second group are those who support the Voice in principle – or who want to support it – but who in the vast majority of cases have genuine doubts and questions about the proposal that the government has put forward.
And the third group are yet to engage, but they too have questions and concerns.
I understand those concerns.
I too have wrestled with them.
I believe during the committee and parliamentary debates in the months ahead, we can answer those concerns and put the referendum on a surer footing for success.
Last Monday, I put forward a new amended model for a voice at the National Press Club.
It was a model that was about putting the referendum on a safer path.
I did so because I don’t believe the referendum is tracking to success – with support in the mid 50s.
The Press Club model achieves three things
- First, it affirms the importance of local and regional bodies across our country as was proposed by the Calma-Langton report and supported by the Coalition. Local and regional voices connected into a national voice are the way we can move the dial on the vital challenges so many local communities face.
- Second, it achieves constitutional recognition without using symbolic language which is out of keeping with the rest of the Constitution – removing questions and doubts about activist judges.
- Third, it leaves the scope and powers of the Voice completely to Parliament rather than turbocharging objections to disputed words in the Constitution. In other words, removing clause two of the proposed constitutional amendment.
These changes will deliver:
A voice that is in every way constitutionally safe.
A voice that honours Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and gives them a place in our founding document.
A voice that recognises that all of us have a shared interest in our land and its future, and a shared belief in the supremacy of Parliament in our constitutional system.
A voice that is founded on common ground.
And a voice that will WIN – because we have taken off the barnacles.
The risk to our country, and the risk to our shared national reconciliation project of failure, needs to be recognised by the government.
An all or nothing approach could deliver nothing.
That’s why we must find common ground.
We all have a responsibility in this debate.
As I have said many times, if you are a leader or advocate for the yes case, you have a responsibility to listen to the legitimate questions of those who doubt.
And if you are a leader or advocate for the no case, then you have a responsibility to listen to the aspirations of Indigenous Australians who see value in a voice.
No matter where we are in this debate – we all must find a way to walk a mile in another’s shoes.
There has always been a place in this country, in our heart and soul for civil debate. For a discussion that helps us find the common ground.
And in this debate, that means not calling those who disagree with you racist, or inferring that they come to the table in bad faith.
And it means not assuming that those who disagree with you want special privileges.
The voice is not about special privileges, it is about recognising that Indigenous Australians are our brothers and sisters – and we have left them behind in our shared national project.
This is a choice for every Australian – and we must all work to find common ground, to put the referendum on a more secure path, and to win together later this year.
Ahead of us is the Parliamentary and Committee process.
The next two months or so are about moving the referendum to a more secure footing by answering the doubts that many voters have. That is where my focus will be.
Today my title changes, but my work doesn’t.
I am still the Liberal Member for Berowra – I love our Party. I love our community. I love helping local residents, visiting local schools and talking to local businesses and community groups and advocating for them all. It is a job that I relish.
I have three political goals that I will be working for, heart and soul, for the remainder of this parliamentary term.
The first is to keep serving the people of Berowra as their local member – working on the issues that matter to them – the pressures on household budgets as living costs go up and interest rates rise, and the pressure on small businesses from tax increases and power price hikes they have to absorb.
The second goal is to do everything I can to put this amendment on a surer footing and doing everything I can to campaign Yes for the Voice over the course of this year. At this point, I want to give a shoutout to my old friend Pat Dodson who I chaired the 2018 joint select committee with. I would really love to be on the hustings together with Pat – but he has a bigger campaign to win.
I’ll be thinking of him as I campaign.
And my final goal for this term is to work for the election of a Coalition Government under the leadership of Peter Dutton. Because in Peter Dutton we have the most experienced and tested Opposition Leader in our history. A man who kept our country safe for 9 years. I look forward to working for his election.
I believe so deeply in our Liberal values.
That is what I stand for – and this is what I will fight for. Happy to take questions.